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Game 26: Astros 5, Cardinals 4

The Cardinals on Friday dropped a very disappointing game strewn with mistakes to the Astros.

A casual observer wouldn't have been able to tell which team is the defending World Series champions and which is the club in complete teardown mode.

The Birds scored a run in the first inning when Rafael Furcal hit a lead-off double. He was nearly stranded when the next two hitters failed to drive him in. But Allen Craig's two-out grounder to third pushed the run across the plate when Houston third sacker Chris Johnson threw wildly to first base. It was the only lead St. Louis would enjoy the entire evening.

In the bottom of the first Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse coaxed Astros lead-off man Jordan Schaefer to hit a fly ball to medium right. But Matt Carpenter, filling in for starter Carlos Beltran who tweaked his hamstring, somehow managed not to catch the ball. Instead of one out and no one on, there were no outs and one man on and the door was open.

Jose Altuve singled to left and, after an out was recorded by the Cardinals, the runners stole second and third. Carlos Lee blooped a single to tie the game as Altuve moved to third. And another cheap single, this time by Jed Lowrie, gave Houston a 2-1 lead.

In the second inning the Redbirds were able to dust themselves off when Carpenter drew a one-out walk and Skip Schumaker followed with a single. The runners moved to second and third on a Lohse sacrifice and then Carpenter scored to tie the game at two when Astros starter Lucas Harrel balked.

But in the bottom half of the frame, with one on and one out, Schaefer hit an easy grounder to Craig at first base. On a similar play Thursday against Pittsburgh Craig conservatively stepped on the base and then threw too late to second to convert the double play. This time he aggressively went for the lead runner first -- and he airmailed his throw into left field. Instead of an inning ending double play, the Astros had runners on first and second and still only one out.

The mental mistake seemed to shake Lohse who then gave up a huge three-run homer to Altuve to put the Astros out front 5-2.

In the top of the third the Cardinals got a lead-off hit from centerfielder Jon Jay who scored when Matt Holliday tripled behind him. Craig hit a long sacrifice fly to center to push home Holliday and the Cardinals were down 5-4. But, after the teams combined to score nine runs in 2 1/2 innings, naturally the offense shut down for the night and there was no further scoring for the remaining three quarters of the game.

Thanks to shoddy defense, Lohse turned in his worst start of the season, lasting only five innings with five runs allowed -- but only three of them earned -- on seven hits. His record fell to 2-1 with a 2.11 ERA.

In the long run, I'm sure the Cardinals are doing the right thing by taking their time bringing first baseman Lance Berkman back from a calf injury and by resting Beltran with a tight hamstring. But it's frustrating to see All-Star quality players ride the bench while subs at their positions made errors that cost the Birds a game. Hopefully Berkman will be back in the middle of the batting order soon and Craig can work into the outfield mix where he seems to be more comfortable.

Cardinals Star of the Game: Holliday was 2-for-5 with a run scored and a run driven in. Although he's still inconsistent, he's seeming to get closer to putting it all together. His batting average has slowly crept up to .255.

Cardinals Play of the Game: On a night of poor play, Jon Jay's ranging, diving catch of a two-out drive from Lee in the bottom of the second seemed Edmondsian.

Lowlight: Craig's busted double play.

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